AS everyone knows, it is not considered polite to ask a lady her age. Even when somebody has the temerity to pose the question, it is the generally recognized privilege of a member of the ‘fair sex’ to hedge the question; or, if obliged to answer, to resort to a white lie. Ladies, as a rule, prefer to keep their age under wraps (pun intended). The same can be said about a certain class of gentlemen. Has the gentle reader noticed that, up to a certain age bracket, youngsters have a tendency to brag that they are ‘older’ than they really are? This applies generally to the early teens or thereabouts. After crossing twenty the situation is often reversed and most persons start pretending to be younger than they really are.
There is a certain point in age the crossing of which, most persons instinctively feel, is not in the interest of their ‘image’. So they often try their damnedest to hold on to that ‘age barrier’ for the longest possible. Observation (research?) tells one that this age barrier is thirty years for the fair sex and forty years for the masculine gender. Once people reach this stage in age, they are most reluctant to let go, clinging on to it as if their very lives depended on it. There is a class of ladies who, when in company, go out of their way to announce the ‘fact’ that having attained the age of thirty’ does not affect their life style at all. It is a different matter that they had in reality crossed that age-barrier quite a few summers earlier.
The case of gentlemen though is somewhat different. They often take pains to work it into their conversation that being on the ‘wrong side of forty’ makes then feel ‘middle-aged’. The fact of how far on the wrong side of forty they happen to be is skillfully camouflaged from the multitude. Ladies of fashion, characteristically, pre-empt the ravages of nature. Much before nature turns their hair gray; they have already altered it to a garish hue so that when the time comes the transition is hardly noticeable. There are, in addition, a surfeit of anti-wrinkle creams and sundry make-up products to preserve that ‘school-girl’ appearance as long as possible. Strict dieting and a strenuous exercise regime help too.
The rub comes in when the gentleman and lady in question happen to be husband and wife. In this circumstance, the pretence has to be what may be termed as ‘double-edged’, for want of a better word. In some cases, where vanity is equally strong on either side, each complements the other’s efforts in their pretence to appear young(er). The couple turn up at social do’s in apparel that would suit people much younger than they happen to be. To complete the charade, they go all out to ‘act young’. If they happen to have children, they lie about the latter’s ages too. Take the lady at a social do who declares confidently to all within ear range; “Ahmad (the husband) turned forty the other day, it makes me feel ancient”. Ahmad, suave, bald but suitably dolled up, smiles weakly. What the lady conveniently omits to mention is that they have a thirty-plus son working in Canada!
There is another type of couple; one in which the husband has no qualms about his true age and refuses to go along with the charade. Here the ambitious wife, put in a tight spot, starts the whispering campaign that she happens to be way younger than her husband. “I was in my teens when I got married, while my husband was of mature age. Arranged match, you know!” The husband squirms, dying to blurt out the truth, but wisely opts for discretion. The lady’s hangers on give him a withering look, while the wife basks in her ‘acquired’ glory. In some extreme cases, certain ladies even go so far as to actually pretend to be ‘second wives’.
Then there is the other side of the coin. There are a lucky few who grow old so gracefully that they feel no need for pretence or subterfuge. They are the ones to be envied and looked up to. There are several such on the silver screen. Sean Connery is one outstanding example; Katherine Hepburn another. Both looked so elegant and dignified in their old age that it would have been a shame if they had tried to camouflage it. All in all, it never really pays to camouflage one’s age. Vanity, though, often takes the upper hand. Manufacturers of ‘beauty creams’ and other anti-aging products continue to have a field day. The urge to look younger than one’s biological age is strong especially among the fair sex. This one urge has produced more millionaires than many an industry.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.